Cold Leap on Global Warming
Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change this week, an act of bold intention that will allow the United States to witness close up the real sacrifices that average North Americans would face in reducing the use of fossil fuels, and thus greenhouse-gas emissions.
Canada is the second-worst polluter per capita after the US. Under the treaty, its 30 million people must reduce carbon emissions by almost a third within a decade, more than required of either Europe or Japan.
Parliament's approval split along party lines. Opponents demanded to see a full implementation program, but never received one.
At first, Canadians were widely supportive when government details about the treaty's implementation were still sketchy and after President Bush decided to ignore Kyoto, proposing instead a voluntary scheme for the US. (A certain sense of moral superiority over the US drives many of Canada's international policies, such as its support for Kyoto.)
But public support has eroded as the government revealed a few - just a few - of the expected tax burdens, job losses, and everyday inconveniences that go with Kyoto compliance. Estimates vary widely on the likely burdens. To help Canadians make this leap of faith into Kyoto's difficult demands, the federal government suggested at the last minute that it would help industries in lowering their pollution. It offered to cap the cost of reducing carbon output to $15 per ton. Canadian taxpayers would need to pay billions to cover the rest of the costs in reducing emissions.
Canada also faces the possibility of lost investment from foreign car companies unwilling to tool up for the more efficient vehicles that Canadians will need. Also hurt may be the oil-rich western provinces, which fear that investors won't want to pay for the required clean-up technologies. Canada's political divide between east and west could become worse.
Such concerns have pushed hopes that a new prime minister in 2004, who will replace the pro-environment Jean Chrétien, will go easy on meeting Kyoto's targets.
Still, Canada could discover that cleaner energy technologies and "smart growth" policies may lessen the burden while also adding to the economy. Some planners want more people to live in urban high-rises to reduce energy use. The government hopes to build more public transit and reduce car use.
Russia still needs to approve the treaty for it to take effect. But Canada's already serving as a model for the US in what to do, and not do.